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Cancelling Brexit might spark a hard right backlash. But delivering Brexit definitely will

We are so monumentally screwed.


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Would scrapping Brexit spark a backlash from the far right? Would keeping Britain in the European Union, even via the same democratic mechanism by which we voted to leave it, inevitably lead to votes for overtly racist parties, waves of protest, even violence?

Such is the contention of some of those now opposed to the “People’s Vote” campaign, which is calling for a public vote on the final Brexit deal in order to check that Britain really wants to leave the European Union, in the hope it’ll decide that it doesn’t.

I can’t honestly say I think they’re wrong, either. Referendums have a nasty habit of emboldening those whose views are least moderate, as Scotland discovered in 2014 and the whole of the UK found two years later. (The AV referendum radicalised nobody, of course, but only because nobody much cared in the first place.) The 2016 referendum may have killed Ukip – but it also shattered long-standing taboos against full-blown public bigotry. If we hold another, there must be at least chance it’ll make the latter problem worse, while giving hard right parties the grievance they need to become a force once again. And, really, would you bet against a far right backlash at this point in history?

Perhaps not. Nonetheless, I think this argument is bunk – not because cancelling Brexit couldn’t lead to a far right backlash, but because delivering it seems all but certain to.

Let’s remind ourselves of things would go in the event of a No Deal Brexit. A government report, leaked earlier this month to the Sunday Times, warned that the Port of Dover would collapse “on day one”, unable to cope with the required checks on the goods coming into the country. “The supermarkets in Cornwall and Scotland will run out of food within a couple of days,” a government source told the paper. “Hospitals will run out of medicines within two weeks.”

And this was not even the most severe scenario presented to ministers, only the moderately-bad one. The Sunday Times didn’t elaborate on the “Armageddon” scenario, thankfully, perhaps.

Even if doomsday doesn’t come to pass, other, very visible problems seem highly likely. Brexit could mean the UK leaves the Euratom agreement, which governs the transport of radioactive materials of the sort used in medicine; and it’ll certainly hit NHS recruitment. So, NHS waiting times may grow.

Waiting times at airports will almost certainly increase. Well-paid jobs will go, as more companies follow Airbus’s lead and decide that access to the European market matters more than their presence in the UK. More poorly paid ones will open up, but it’s hard to imagine a burst of national enthusiasm for picking fruit. In a hundred tiny ways, Brexit will create a Britain that is very slightly worse.

When these problems come to pass, who do you think the Brexiteers will blame? Can you imagine Boris Johnson appearing on TV to admit that he’d arsed it up? A statement from Michael Gove, announcing he’s been wrong all along?

Of course not. The culprits will be wicked foreign bureaucrats, plotting to ruin things for decent, honest Britons once again. Or it’ll be the fault of the prime minister for betraying the cause, or the civil service, for sabotaging it. Economic crisis, perfidious foreigners, enemies within – if you can come up with better pre-conditions for a hard right revival, I pray I never live to see them.

Or perhaps we won't get an economically ruinous Hard Brexit, though. Perhaps we'll stay in the single market, and the customs union, and all the other less famous but vital European institutions, and none of that will come to pass.

Even in the unlikely event that the Tory Brexiteers accept this, though persuading the EU27 to agree such a deal will probably require ongoing freedom of movement, large payments to Brussels or, most likely, both. In such a scenario we may avoid any sudden economic collapse – but the perfidious foreigners and enemies within parts of the backdrop would still be there, and you can be damn sure Nigel Farage will be available to point to them hourly.

The bottom line is, it’s hard to see any plausible scenario that won’t disappoint Brexiteers, and lead to cries of betrayal. They were promised an impossible combination, of more money and fewer immigrants, greater influence and greater control. But they can’t have all those things: real life requires compromise, and utopia does not exist. When that penny drops, they’re going to be angry – and some of them are going to lash out.

So, yes: cancelling Brexit might trigger a hard right backlash. But I can see no way that delivering it won’t do the same. The only difference is, we’ll have less stuff when it happens.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Brexit. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

All the World Cup-related political headlines to expect over the duration of the tournament

Has Harry Kane saved Brexit?


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Given that the World Cup produces TV ratings higher than virtually any other event on the planet, it’s no surprise that it proves absolutely irresistible for political pundits to try to ride the coattails of its popularity, and hook the World Cup into articles and columns during its run.

There is some evidence this is actually more than just a desperate attempt to get you all to pay attention to anything other than the matches, though: the World Cup has real world knock-on effects. Good performances in international sporting events does, for example, seem to provide a polling boost for the relevant government. There are even stronger effects in the stock market: Goldman Sachs analysts estimate the World Cup winner’s stock market outperforms by about 3.5 per cent in the months after the tournament – but the runner-up experiences a slump.

With all that in mind, here’s a round-up of all the political hot-takes you can expect before the final on the 15th (or – whisper it – whenever England go out before then).

If England beat Belgium on Thursday – just as Theresa May concludes what was supposed to be the “crunch week” of Brexit negotiations:

  • SCREW EU: England team shows Theresa May that Britain CAN get the better of Brussels
  • England’s triumphant performance has lessons for Brexit: if we hold the line we can win in Europe

And if they lose:

  • England’s football predicts England’s future: big enough to beat the little guys – but not strong enough to take on the world
  • Of course England lost to Belgium – we’ve been getting kicked around by Brussels for decades

If England face Japan in the second round:

  • Boycott backfired? Britain misses the chance for VIP box trade talks as UK VIPs dodge Russia’s World Cup

If England reach the Quarter Finals:

  • SNAP ELECTION? World Cup heroes could secure Theresa May a 60-seat majority, new poll reveals
  • Has Harry Kane saved Brexit? Why England’s summer of joy means May can get the deal she needs
  • How the England team could get us a soft Brexit: May can now face down her Brexiteer backbenchers
  • NO-WIN CORBYN: fans appalled as Labour leader sends only ONE tweet supporting the team

If it’s Germany England faces in the Quarter Finals (or later):

  • MAY VS MERKEL: how tonight’s match could make or break one of Europe’s two most embattled PMs

If England crash out in the second round or quarter finals:

  • How England’s World Cup was the story of Brexit – high hopes, big promises, then reality crashed back in
  • MAYDAY: PM in trouble as hoped-for World Cup bounce becomes a splat
  • How THAT missed goal could make Jeremy Corbyn the PM for the next World Cup
  • Is every FIFA referee corrupt?
  • SABOTAGE? Did Putin’s goons try to poison our brave boys?

If England reach the semi-finals:

  • WHO’S HE SUPPORTING? Outrage as Corbyn refuses permanent facial tattoo of the flag
  • U-turn? Senior cabinet source says he WILL fly to the final when England make it through
  • ARISE, SIR GARETH: Number 10 source says knighthood for Southgate will be fast-tracked – but only if we win

If England loses the semi-finals:

  • SACK SOUTHGATE: Why he should go – despite our boys’ best performance in decades
  • CABINET MINISTER: Britain was right to boycott Russia’ corrupt spectacle

If England reaches the final:

  • BORIS JOHNSON: Why I’m backing our boys and flying out to Russia for the final
  • Flying to Russia to back our brave boys was actually Gavin Williamson’s idea and he had it first and would’ve taken a much cooler military plane, says senior cabinet source
  • STAND BY YOUR FAN: Theresa May has “no plans” to fire Boris as he openly defies her ministerial boycott
  • CORB-OUT: Investigation reveals ZERO England flags on Jeremy Corbyn’s allotment

If England actually win the world cup:

  • Scientists confirm this universe is a simulation, suspect it’s running on a 14-year-old’s Playstation
  • Wake up, wake up, it’s time to go to school

If a writer gets too snarky early in the tournament:

  • All the World Cup-related political headlines to expect over the duration of the tournament

James Ball is an award-winning freelance journalist who has previously worked at the Guardian and Buzzfeed. He tweets @jamesrbuk

Warning signs: is Donald Trump a Nazi?

He’s no fascist. But he – and his movement – do things that corrode liberal democracy.


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Donald Trump’s actions are often so concerning and bewildering it isn’t obvious how to respond. This has been a week of shocks, building from the revelation that immigrant children were being taken from their carers, through to the president’s tweets yesterday suggesting that the rule of law should be suspended to allow officials to send anyone – even potential refugees – home without due process.

Amid the talk of “infestation”, state-sponsored child cruelty and the administration’s fondness for propaganda, there are valid comparisons to be made with some of the worst regimes of the 20th century. As Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner said, Trump’s actions could be staging posts on the road to much darker places.

It is often tempting to call Trump a Nazi or a fascist. But is it helpful to do so? Let’s clear a couple of things up first: Trump isn’t a Nazi. Nazis don’t exist any more. Trump is supportive, or at least not unsupportive, of the alt right; a far right and libertarian hybrid. But they’re not Nazis and neither is he. He’s also not a fascist. Trump shows disdain for democratic institutions but he is an elected leader – elected by tens of millions. He seems frustrated by the rule of law and democratic process but he is far, thankfully, from rejecting democracy or advocating a one-party state.

I’m not discounting that in another time Trump would have been a fascist. I think he probably would have. Like the original ’America First’ figurehead, Charles Lindbergh, Trump openly admires dictatorships. But definitions matter. We need to keep a laser focus on what we criticise Trump and his movement for. Because misplaced comparisons can do damage. You lose the trust with the millions of people who don’t strongly object to Trump but are uneasy with his policies, and you set your argument up to fail by making a comparison that can easily be rebutted. Those people then say: I’m not listening as you are over-egging the pudding. 

The discussion doesn't end there, though. That’s where it begins. And this is my main point. Societies can’t just be divided into “free” and “unfree” any more than a human can be described as “healthy” or “unhealthy”. Like a body, a state is a hugely complex, interlocking system. That means that certain parts can be working well whilst others are not. It means that pathologies can be localised to one system, but they can also be – at any given time – spreading. 

And like anbody, a social pathology can predate visible symptoms by months or even years. In some 20th century states, every aspect was corrupted to make mass killing and oppression possible. The leader, but also parliament (a fig leaf), judiciary (loyal to the leader not justice) and the perverse incentives for individuals to act contrary to their consciences That level of pathology is common to societies run by fascists, communists and Nazis. The name is unimportant. But you can pull the common themes together and see how societies progress towards un-freedom and even genocide. 

A few months ago, I helped make a film featuring survivors of three different genocides. Their experiences were as different as you would expect, spanning continents and decades, but they also had much in common: discrimination, dehumanisation, neighbour turned against neighbour, splitting society into tribes and racial hierarchies, propaganda. In each case, the fundamental rights which protect us from the state were dismantled.

So back to Trump. He’s no Nazi or fascist. But he – and his movement – do things that corrode liberal democracy. How can we tell? Human rights. The European Convention on Human Rights was designed by people who understood the pathologies that led to totalitarian states. People like Hersch Lauterpacht, who lost his family in the Holocaust, and David Maxwell Fyfe, who prosecuted at the Nuremberg War Crime trials. They helped create a simple list of rights needed for a free society: fair trial, no torture, freedom of speech… 

Human rights laws are a blueprint for a free society, but they are also an early warning system. And breaches of human rights are therefore a useful way of assessing how pathological the behaviour of a leader or government is to the political system they are running. 

That’s why we should worry about Trump. He is rhetorically against the idea of human rights. He withdrew the US from the UN Human Rights Council. He rejects international institutions that are the framework for international human rights standards. His anti-Muslim polcies are discriminatory – drawing distinctions between “us” and Islam, so building tribal consciousness which leads to bad places. He speaks of “infestation”– language familiar to that of Goebbels, who compared to Jews to “rats”,  and Hutus in Rwanda, who reduced Tutsis to “cockroaches”. He supports the torture of terror suspects and practices that have been outlawed in international human rights law for 40 years. His child separation policy would never have survived a human rights challenge and was rightly seen as crossing a line.

So Trump may not be a Nazi or a fascist but he – and the other populist regimes that are building a power-base across Europe – may still pose a threat to liberal democracy. Human rights can be a litmus test to see the difference between policies and practices we dislike and ones are genuinely corrosive of democracy and may lead to darker places. That’s why it is vital that we protect and strengthen our human rights laws during these concerning times. The film I made about genocide survivors was called The Warning Signs. There are warning signs now which we cannot – must not – ignore. 

Adam Wagner is a barrister at Doughty Street Chambers and the founder of RightsInfo.

Today’s Heathrow vote reveals more about political tactics than plans for a third runway

Up to 100 Labour MPs could vote with the government, despite the plans failing four of the party’s tests.


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Today MPs get an increasingly rare treat: a set-piece vote that isn't on Brexit legislation. Plans to build a third runway at Heathrow are expected to be approved by the Commons this evening, but the journey there has been a bit more turbulent than either the government or Labour would have liked.

Conservative MPs have been whipped to back expansion, but the convenient absence of Boris Johnson means we won't get a box office resignation from the cabinet tonight. The Foreign Secretary is travelling abroad to a location his team won't disclose for “security reasons”. Job security, presumably. Lovers of minor personnel changes in the middle rung of government will have to make do with Greg Hands’ departure for a while yet.

Any Tory rebellion is expected to be relatively small: Hands, Zac Goldsmith, Justine Greening and a handful of others will likely vote against the plans, as could the SNP, who until yesterday were assumed to be nailed-on supporters of expansion. A mealy-mouthed briefing from the party to the BBC suggested the government hadn't done enough to outline the economic benefits of a third runway to Scotland but critics allege that the Nats, who are adopting an increasingly hostile stance to the UK government at Holyrood and Westminster, simply don't want to be seen voting with the Tories.

SNP opposition could have put the government in serious danger of a defeat, but won't. Why? Labour has given its MPs a free vote and up to 100 of them could vote with with the government and deliver a victory for the third runway, despite it officially failing the party's four tests on airport capacity, carbon emissions, noise pollution and ensuring the economic benefits are shared across the country. Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner is among those likely to go over the top, despite Corbyn's opposition.

The row appears to put the Labour leader at odds with Unite: in a move that will confuse those who believe Gerard Coyne's attack lines, he isn't doing exactly what Len McCluskey wants. The Unite boss has written to every Labour MP asking them to vote for expansion today. But there's a risk of overwriting the difference of opinion. It isn't a blazing new row. As Stephen wrote last week, that Labour has even allowed a free vote on an issue that according to its own policy is a terrible idea is a victory for the union. The leadership has enabled its MPs to deliver a big win for the union and the workers it represents in aviation while averting a messy internal fight.

It's telling, though, that discussion of this evening's vote has focussed almost entirely on political chicanery and not the whys and wherefores of exactly how Heathrow is going to be expanded, and when. Asked about Hands' resignation yesterday, Labour MP Andy Slaughter wistfully noted yesterday that he himself had quit the government over the third runway almost a decade ago. All today will do is open another protracted chapter in the 20-year story of how Heathrow probably won't get a third runway. It's thus hard to escape the conclusion that the only significance of this vote could be as a case study in the parliamentary tactics of Corbyn's Labour.

Patrick Maguire is the New Statesman's political correspondent. 

Jeremy Hunt is openly pitching for the Tory leadership

The health secretary’s hard line on Brexit is a bid to prove his credentials to colleagues.


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A week on from Theresa May’s promise of an extra £384 million a week for the NHS, and Jeremy Hunt is no closer to answering how exactly it will be funded. 

In an appearance on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show this morning, the health secretary refused to be drawn on which taxes would rise to fund the commitment, and how the burden would be shared, if at all, with the money Theresa May claims will be freed up by leaving the EU. 

On one issue, however, there was no such ambiguity: Brexit. Hunt was once a remainer, but has since resiled from that stance and said he would vote leave in a re-run of the referendum. 

It is savvy politicking from a minister with one eye on the Tory leadership and he further burnished his credentials this morning. Asked by Marr about warnings by Airbus that it would quit the UK in the event of a no-deal Brexit, Hunt struck a markedly hostile tone.

“I thought it was completely inappropriate for businesses to be making these kinds of threats for one very simple reason.

"We are at an absolutely critical moment in the Brexit discussions and what that means is that we need to get behind Theresa May to deliver the best possible Brexit - a clean Brexit.

“What businesses want... is clarity and certainty and the more that we undermine Theresa May the more likely we are to end up with a fudge, which would be an absolute disaster for everyone.”

Conciliatory it isn’t. Nor is it a strategy befitting of a “sensible Conservative government” that Hunt said businesses wanted. But to labour on such criticisms is to misunderstand his target audience – Tory MPs.

While he praised the prime minister as possessing “the instincts of a Brexiteer but the cautious pragmatism of a Remainer”, his comments are an invitation to his colleagues to attribute those qualities to him. 

As he grows in confidence and stature, we are seeing the broad contours of Hunt’s leadership pitch emerge: a recovering remainer with the zeal of the Eurosceptic convert, he will sell himself as the unity candidate.

Patrick Maguire is the New Statesman's political correspondent. 

Gavin Williamson’s threat to Theresa May is more dangerous than it looks

The divisive Defence Secretary might not profit from it, but May allies fear defence rows have the potential to destabilise the Prime Minister.


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Front pages hung on a demand from Gavin Williamson for more cash for the military are nothing new. The Defence Secretary has been locked in a vicious briefing war with Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, to that effect since the moment he was appointed to the cabinet. Today's Mail on Sunday splash marks an escalation of his campaign: for the first time, Theresa May is the target of his righteous indignation.

The paper reports that Williamson has demanded an extra £20 billion in funding for the armed forces – the same amount as that promised by the Prime Minister for the NHS last week – and threatened to corral Tory backbenchers into voting down the next budget should May fail to acquiesce. “I made her – and I can break her,” the Defence Secretary is reported to have told a group of military leaders. 

Williamson's colleagues are wearily familiar with this sort of posturing. Some of them, to coin a phrase, would rather he shut up and went away. The call is unlikely to be heeded by the Chancellor, whose allies popularised the devastating "Private Pike" sobriquet that haunts the boyish defence secretary at Westminster. Williamson's hawkishness on defence is exceeded by the Chancellor's on fiscal policy, and the message to ministers after the announcement of last week's new NHS funding is that there is no money for anything else. (Liz Truss, his deputy, tells today'Sunday Telegraph that ministers should realise the demanding more money for their departments is “not macho”, in a thinly-veiled attack on Williamson.)

Nor is it a game-changer as far as his unsubtle campaign for the Tory leadership is concerned. Williamson is playing his political hits with characteristic tunelessness. For a majority of Conservative MPs – the electorate who will ultimately determine the field for the next contest – he is well behind Sajid Javid, Jeremy Hunt and others in the race to succeed May, and he will struggle to change that dynamic.

All of this is true. But there is a but, and it is bigger than you might think. There is a popular conception that Williamson is a gormless neophyte and Francis Urqhuart wannabe, who speaks to nothing but an imaginary camera and his own ambition. Plenty of Tories agree but on this cause he is not without allies. 

There is a lot of inchoate anger on the Tory backbenches about military issues, be it cuts to funding or the prosecution of veterans for historic offences committed in Northern Ireland and elsewhere. Tart questions on the latter row are heard from Tory MPs at PMQs every week, with punchier quotes to be found in the tabloids most days.

One Whitehall source told me recently that they worried that issues such as these, rather than Brexit, are more likely to derail May's premiership. They are as existential to many Tory MPs as the NHS and education are to their Labour colleagues. In this respect it doesn't matter that Williamson's constituency is limited to the “up to 20¨ of his colleagues cited by the Mail on Sunday – such a number is more than big enough to endanger a minority government.

Unlike the band of relatively demure former ministers who have blanched from rebelling on Brexit legislation, Tories in government worry that the “headbangers” and ex-military Tories supportive of Williamson's gung-ho rhetoric won't heed attempts to bring them to heel with reason or compromise. 

Williamson might not be the one to profit from it, but there is every chance a row over the armed forces and defence policy could seriously destabilise May. Their ire might previously have been directed at the Chancellor, who is a lightning rod for backbench discontent on other issues too. But in taking political ownership of increased funding for the NHS – and using the illusory Brexit dividend to justify it – May has dragged herself into this row and future ones like it. With a precedent set, other ministers will fancy their chances too.

Patrick Maguire is the New Statesman's political correspondent. 

On her Reputation tour, Taylor Swift is more snake charmer than snake

You can try to hate her, to resist her winding melodies, but, at a show this good, it’s impossible. The music itself is her best revenge.

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Taylor Swift’s sixth album, Reputation, is stuffed with more vague allusions to her future revenge than a hammy production of Sweeney Todd. “All I think about is karma [...] Maybe I’ll get mine but you’ll all get yours”, she sings on “Look What You Made Me Do”. “I keep him forever,” she sings of a new lover on “...Ready For It”, and, just when you think she might have put revenge aside for a moment, adds, “Like a vendetta”. She never tells us what that revenge might be, but she constantly assures us it’s forever: she will have her vengeance, in this life or the next.

It would be an understatement to say that Taylor Swift’s Reputation Tour leans in to this vindictive aesthetic. Comically large and evil-looking snake puppets adorn the stadium like something out of Aladdin: The Musical. (Jafar!? Is that you?) Dancers writhe in serpent-decked leathers. When gunshot sound effects go off in “I Did Something Bad”, fireworks shoot from the roof of the stadium, and giant balls of fire burst above the stage. Swift herself drips with attitude, all arched eyebrows and wicked smiles. It’s a thrilling spectacle: deliberately, delightfully camp. The whole affair crackles with delicious, petty drama. 

A big pop star rebrand poses a challenge when a live show comes around. Taylor Swift’s fans are fiercely in love with her, and most of them adore her early music: the sweet, innocent narratives at play in “Our Song”, “Back To December” and “All Too Well”. It would be easy for Swift to pretend she never said the “old Taylor” is “dead”, and run through her back catalogue of hits. But at Wembley, she played all 15 tracks from Reputation in full (some fans may have been disappointed that the surprise acoustic song on her set list, usually saved for a different old classic, was last night “So It Goes”, the only song from the new album not usually played on this tour). Instead, she gestures to her back catalogue through medleys: “Style”, “Love Story”, and “You Belong With Me” are weaved together, “Bad Blood” includes some verses from a track from her very first album, “Should’ve Said No”, and “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” is mixed in with the bratty, raucous closer “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things”.

Swift sets herself the difficult task of making the different Taylors, and their different sounds, tesselate, but she makes it look easy. It works best during the set’s piano ballad: a merging of Reputation’s country-adjacent closer “New Year’s Day”, and an old favourite, “Long Live”, usually considered to be a love letter from Taylor to her fans, featuring the line “I had the time of my life fighting dragons with you”. Around the stadium, fans held up signs reading “PROUD”, two fans held up signs reading “I had the time of my life fighting SNAKES with you”. During the ballad, there was a three minute-long ovation that left Swift in tears. 

Here, tweaks to the lyrics felt poignant. “I had the time of my life... with you,” Swift sang to the crowd, eliding the fighting dragons phrase. It would have been obvious to ramp up the one part of the song that most fits with Swift’s latest incarnation, instead she removed it completely. It felt like a nod to the idea that, behind all the pomp and ceremony, and the 20-foot-high snake statues, the same Taylor Swift who sings her “diary entries” to ride-or-die fans each night remains. “My reputation’s never been worse,” she sings on “Delicate”, with a smile. “So you must like me for me.”

It’s true that the backdrop to this show is Taylor Swift’s damaged reputation: over the last few years, even the most committed Taylor Swift fans have had to grapple with a number of public spats between Swift and Nicki Minaj, Kim Kardashian and Kanye West in which Swift has come off looking the worst — like a villain playing the victim.

I love Swift’s music, but I went into the Reputation tour feeling sceptical. I left feeling that regardless of whether you think she’s not a snake, Taylor Swift is a snake charmer: you can try to hate her, to resist her winding melodies, but, at a show this good, it’s impossible. The music itself is her best revenge. 

Anna Leszkiewicz is the New Statesman's deputy culture editor.

Reporting on the Italian mafia is becoming more dangerous than ever before

Italy’s new populist government is threatening to take away police protection from investigative journalists. 


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He had spoken about it before becoming Italy’s interior minister. Now, not even a month into the role, Matteo Salvini has threatened to remove the police protection for one of the country’s most famous journalists, Roberto Saviano. In an interview on national broadcaster Rai Tre on Thursday morning, Salvini said it was time to review spending on Saviano’s police escort as part of an evaluation of how “Italians spend their money”, thus following through on a specific pledge he made as part of the election campaign. 

Saviano has received 24-hour police protection for more than a decade following the release of his book Gomorrah, published in 2006, which looked at the Neapolitan mafia. A best-selling writer and media personality, he is also one of Salvini’s toughest critics. 

Other investigative journalists who receive 24-hour protection after having written exposés of mafia corruption and receiving death threats are also worried about their future security.

In the 2018 summer issue of the Index on Censorship's magazine, Federica Angeli, herself a journalist living under 24-hour police protection after exposing mafia links in the resort town of Ostia, near Rome, says: “In Italy, people have got used to the fact that journalists need police protection.” 

In 2017, it was reported that 196 journalists have received protection, with approximately ten reporters having it for 24 hours a day.

Angeli expressed concern that Italy’s current political situation would leave her and other journalists further isolated and exposed. 

The threat against Saviano from Salvini comes at a precarious moment for journalists in Italy. Reporters Without Borders warned this year that the level of violence against reporters is “alarming and keeps growing”. On Index’s Mapping Media Freedom (MMF) site, which tracks media violations against journalists across Europe, 32 incidents were documented in 2017 in Italy. This year, 24 have already been recorded. These incidents are often very violent, even if not resulting in death. Last November, Rai reporter Daniele Piervincenzi had his nose broken after a man with links to the mafia head-butted him. As a result of these attacks, a coordination centre for combatting acts of intimidation against journalists opened in December, the first of its kind in Europe, according to Italian authorities. 

All of this makes Salvini’s words all the more worrying. The new government’s attitude towards the media provides little hope that the violence will be addressed, and if anything suggests matters might worsen. Indeed, Salvini is not the only one in the government to hold journalists in low regard. The ruling party in the coalition, the Five Star Movement (M5S), has been vocal in its criticism of the media. Beppe Grillo, who established the movement in 2009, set up a column known as “Journalist of the Day” on his popular blog, in which he singled out articles and journalists who were critical of M5S. 

“My fear is that the threats of these political groups could lead to substantial worsening of our freedom,” says Angeli. She herself has been kidnapped. The acts of violence and intimidation against her include flammable substances thrown through the window of her apartment.

Unless the causes of the violence against journalists are addressed, removing police protection will have devastating effects on the practice of journalism in Italy. Many journalists are more than willing to acknowledge they owe their lives to such protection.

Lirio Abbate, who specialises in organised crime and is deputy editor of the weekly news magazine L’Espresso, has been receiving protection since 2007. 

“The protection provided by the national police saved me from a bomb left outside my house in Palermo and from an attack by armed criminals in Rome, and also resulted in the arrest of one of these hired killers, but the threats still continue today,” Abbate said in 2017.

“The presence of the police officers protecting me does not prevent me from continuing to work in the field and, thanks to them, I can continue to reaffirm the importance of investigative journalism every day.”

Indeed, taking away this crucial lifeline would have a crippling effect on the industry. Already journalists are quitting out of fear for their lives. Last month MMF reported on Salvatore Sparavigna, a local journalist, who announced he was going to quit the profession after finding a handwritten death threat in his mailbox. The unsigned note reads: “You will end up like Siani”, in reference to Giancarlo Siani, a reporter famous for his investigations on the Camorra crime syndicate, who was brutally murdered in 1985. On Facebook, Sparavigna wrote: “In the light of the huge indifference and of the lack of support received by everyone, I have decided to give up and dedicate my time to something else. One thing is certain: they have won.” 

Yet this is not just an issue that concerns journalists. Angeli tells Index that the violence she experiences extend to many others. People in Ostia have approached her and revealed that the clans demand protection money and threaten local businesses. 

She says: “You realise that something is not right when you see that these people are turning to you for help. It should be the state who should protect them. What can I guarantee them?”

And what can the state now guarantee Italian journalists? Life as an Italian investigative reporter is looking even more dangerous than before.

Jemimah Steinfeld is deputy editor for the quarterly magazine Index on Censorship. The latest issue Trouble in Paradise reports on freedoms under threat in holiday hotspots.

The Deer Hunter, Vertigo, Die Hard... it’s a shame re-releases are so often such familiar films

Returning to the same films over and over can only inhibit our viewing habits.

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To the Lexi, an adorable independent cinema in north-west London, for a rare screening earlier this week of Mikey and Nicky, complete with an informed and affectionate introduction by Peter Bradshaw of the Guardian. This sweaty, festering and bleakly funny 1976 drama stars John Cassavetes as Nicky, a low-level hood hiding out from the mob in Philadelphia, where he is kept company in his torment by his pal, Mikey (Peter Falk). The tone of desperate comedy is set in the opening moments when Nicky tries to attract the attention of Mikey, who is down in the street, by throwing a bottle wrapped in a towel. It hits the road and smashes. Mikey comes upstairs and knocks on the door. 

“Nick, it’s me. It’s Mikey from the corner. I came as soon as I got your towel.”

This is only the first of the many gems that springs from the pen of the film’s writer-director Elaine May, a spiky genius of US cinema, not exactly unsung but certainly overlooked. She directed four movies — A New Leaf and The Heartbreak Kid prior to Mikey and Nicky, and only Ishtar after it — as well as writing a heap of others, script-doctoring a bunch more and acting every now and then. She was last seen in Woody Allen’s Amazon series Crisis in Six Scenes, having earlier provided one of the few bright spots in his 2000 comedy Small Time Crooks. She will return to Broadway this October, at the age of 86, for the first time since 1960, when she and her comedy partner, the late Mike Nichols, created a new sophisticated comic vernacular and became the toast of the town. What has occasioned her return is a revival of The Waverley Gallery by Kenneth Lonergan (who gave May’s daughter, the terrific Jeannie Berlin, a plum role as the righteous, unforgettable Emily in his film Margaret). And the rest of the Waverley cast ain’t too shabby either: Joan Allen, Lucas Hedges and Michael Cera.

I digress. As well as hailing the miracle of May and Mikey and Nicky, I come to celebrate the sterling work of the Lexi team, who put in many hours of detective work and forked out a hefty chunk of change to ensure that the film didn’t have to be screened from some crummy disc. (“The image on the DVD looked like it was being projected on the side of a crisp packet,” the Lexi’s Rosie Greatorex told me.) Work like that keeps cinema alive.

It made me think, though, how discouraging the schedule of re-releases and revivals tends to be, always sticking to established favourites like a jukebox that’s only stocked with chart-toppers. Looking at the theatrical re-releases for the rest of the year, there aren’t a lot of surprises. There’s The Big Lebowski, a great movie, the Coens’ best perhaps, but yawn. There’s an ironic 4th of July victory lap for The Deer Hunter. Some Like It Hot, which is cool, but still. Die Hard at Christmas. All commendable films, but they won’t take you far from the beaten track.

The commercial attraction is clear. These are films people know and they love. It’s like ordering your favourite item from the menu rather than taking a chance on the special. But what if distributors and exhibitors chanced their arm a bit more often, harvesting oddities and lost treasures and the films that have fallen through the cracks?

The Piano was out again last week; coming soon (again) are Mildred Pierce, The Evil Dead and Vertigo (which has been out so many times that it surely qualifies as a re-re-re-release). Hard to argue that any of these don’t fall into the category of greatness. But returning to the same films over and over can only inhibit our viewing habits. It also overshadows and limits alternative readings of cinema history. We shouldn't ignore or forget films that have already been inducted into the canon but we kowtow to someone else's idea of greatness at our peril. Addressing an equivalent orthodoxy in pop music, Denim’s song “Middle of the Road”, from the album Back In Denim, put it best: “Don’t be told who to like/ It's your choice, it’s your right to choose who to listen to/ It’s your rock’n’roll.”

Hear, hear — but with “cinema” added to the lyrics.

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards and is Film Critic in Residence at Falmouth University.

How the SNP just gained 5,000 members – and how other parties could do the same

Only about two per cent of the population are members of a political party. 


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At Prime Minister’s Questions last Wednesday, the Scottish National Party staged a mass walk-out after their Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, was kicked out of the session. In the wake of this stunt, it has been reported that the party has gained 5,000 new members – 100 times higher than the daily average. Whilst an undoubted political scene, this event was also indicative of a broader political trend – something that political parties seeking to boost their membership can take advantage of.

Political party membership in the UK, is odd. Only about two per cent of the population are members of one, and even then only a handful of these people actually tend to get actively involved. It is, by any measure, a minority pursuit. We have been working with political parties and other organisations since January to try and understand exactly how and why people come to join. In a forthcoming report we argue that there must be three factors at play. First, there must be an underlying motivation. Second, it must be easy to join (process). And third, there must be a trigger.

Motivations have been much discussed by academics and journalists alike, and can range from an attachment to a party’s principles, to the influence of family and friends, to the furthering of one’s career. Process is relatively self-explanatory, but you’d be surprised how often parties get this wrong. Just last month it was reported in CapX that a mystery shopping exercise showed that “of those trying to join the Conservative Party over half got no reply, ten per cent were told the party was closed to new members, and some were told an interview must first be passed”.

The SNP walk-out, on the other hand, was a classic trigger. These are the catalysts that cause somebody who is already predisposed to join a political party to actually take that final step. They are also, more often than not, external events outside of the control of the party. The most common trigger occurs around elections and referendums. For example, all parties reported (varying degrees of) spikes in June 2016, last year many parties received a similar boost after Theresa May’s election-deciding walking holiday in Wales. Many parties we spoke to talked of a bump after the election of Donald Trump, the Greens even saw a (small) spike after the airing of Blue Planet.

However, national events are not the only trigger for joining a party. They can also be more personal (reaching retirement age), local (a decision to cut down trees in Sheffield) or international (during our work we were told that the election of Donald Trump had caused a spike in membership). There is also good evidence that parties gain members when it is perceived that a party has been treated unfairly.

The biggest boost that the Green Party received during the “green surge” of 2014/15 was when they were excluded from the 2015 general election debates. It has been widely reported (and mentioned anecdotally to us by party insiders) that membership of the Labour Party rises whenever the leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is attacked in the media. The SNP have credited their membership boom to “Tory attacks on devolution”. Perhaps, one thing that unites us politically, and is capable of traversing partisan borders, is a British sense of fair play?

All this suggests that, actually, a lot less thought goes into the choice to join a political party than we might think. So, what do parties do? Well, they could see it as an utterly depressing proposition. Membership peaks and troughs are largely out of their control – they just have to wait for the next wave. But, just because surfers can’t control the sea doesn’t mean that some aren’t better at riding waves than others. Those that run gyms probably aren’t all that surprised (and unprepared for) a membership surge in early January, and there’s no reason why political parties should be any different.

Parties can piggyback on these external events outside of their control. This can either be reactive or altogether more planned. The SNP may well have planned last week’s walk out in PMQs, but they also reacted to the incident in such a way that it boosted membership. Similarly, parties can and do use other events to as a means of increasing their visibility. The next major opportunity would be the upcoming visit of Donald Trump.

Parties can also orchestrate their own events, which is a little trickier. Labour Live may well have been derided by many and, I suspect, judgements about its relative success or failure will largely fall along partisan lines. But it’s the kind of thing parties should be experimenting with, both in terms of boosting membership and engaging the members that they do have. Even Reverend and the Makers have got to be better than a three-hour meeting discussing the precise wording of articles 2b and 2c of the local election strategy, or a rainy Tuesday evening spent canvassing?